In Sunday school, there was a discussion about Matthew 5, where Jesus says that you should love people who hate you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other toward them; if they take your coat, let them also take your cloak; and if they force you to go one mile, go a second mile also.
On that very evening, you are alone at home. Someone breaks into the house. He holds a knife to your throat, and instructs you to give him your valuables. He talks tough, but he appears to be drunk or on drugs, and you realize that you can easily overpower him.
I asked a number of people what they would do:
- 44% would:
- overpower the robber and then call the police.
- 29% would:
- be as kind as possible to the robber and give him everything he wants. Then call the police after he is gone.
- 15% would:
- try to get away from the robber, go to a neighbor’s house, and then call the police.
- 9% would:
- do something else not listed here.
- 3% would:
- overpower the robber but never call the police.
- 0% would:
- be as kind as possible to the robber and give him everything he wants. Then never call the police.
- 0% would:
- try to get away from the robber, go to a neighbor’s house, and wait until he is gone. Never call the police afterwards.
It is interesting to see how everyone responded to this question, because it shows how we apply our spirituality to a crisis in which our lives are at stake. It also shows how willing we are to see our adversaries as human beings. I’m not going to pontificate about which one is the right answer, because in real life there are very few answers that fit all situations. However, I do think the results are sad.
When this happened to me, the robber used a pair of scissors instead of a knife. I was as kind as possible to him and helped him rob me. That put me more or less in control of what he stole, and it threw him off guard, because he wasn’t expecting me to be nice and he wasn’t sure how to act. When we reached the kitchen, I thought I was going to faint, because we had been going through all the drawers in the house and the drawers in the kitchen contained sharp knives. But I gathered my wits and asked him if he was hungry. I offered to prepare him a meal. That confused him, and he turned my offer down. Then he turned to leave and instructed me not to call the police or he would come back. I replied that I had no intention of calling the police. He was puzzled and actually demanded to know why not! I told him that he had not stolen anything, because in helping him rob me, I had essentially given him everything as a gift. You don’t call the police to report that someone accepted a gift! He was very confused when he left. I did not call the police. I was so shaken that I did not go to work the next day.
Everyone told me I handled it wrong. Everyone said I had acted as a wimp, and they said I should have fought him or hurt him. They told me that because he was a robber, I didn’t have to keep my promise not to call the police.
A year later, my doorbell rang in the middle of the afternoon. When I opened the door, the robber stood there, completely sober, nicely dressed, and shaking nervously from head to toe. He even produced his drivers license to identify himself. He apologized for robbing me and for not being able to restore what he stole. He asked me, very nervously, if I was going to call the police. I said no, I had promised that I would not, and anyway, he hadn’t stolen anything because I had given him gifts, and it would be rude of him to return them. Then he told me that because I had been so nice to him, he couldn’t stand himself after the robbery. It bothered him until he enrolled himself in a twelve-step drug program and was free of drugs—which was evident by looking at him. He was at the point in the twelve-step program where he had to go back and reconcile himself to all the people he had hurt and make restitution if possible, and that was the purpose of his visit.
If I had called the police, he would have gone to jail. He would have become someone’s girlfriend and he would have learned new techniques for committing crimes. But because I treated him like a guest and did not call the police, he allowed the Holy Spirit to make him into a useful member of society.
Would it work in all situations? I don’t know, I haven’t been in all situations. But I do know that in this case, turning the other cheek did work, and that by loving my enemy, I had poured hot coals onto his head, and that the Holy Spirit transformed his life.